My sourdough starter has been bubbling and maturing for a few weeks now, just begging me to bake some bread. And because it is so darn special and smells so damn good, I've been working hard to come up with ideas that'll do it justice and more.
I first made this all-whole-wheat sourdough bread recipe a couple of weeks back by riffing off my High Protein Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, but after the bread had baked up I realized I had made a mistake: I didn't score the bread. While there is no need to score my regular whole-wheat sandwich bread, sourdough is different because the bacteria in the starter produce tons of gases and alcohol. When the bread bakes in the oven the gases need an escape hatch. Ideally that should be a cut or score you make on the top of the loaf
My unscored bread, baked in loaf pans, did rise quite nicely and had great texture, but it formed this huge, domed skin on top where all those gases got trapped with nowhere to go. Poor things.
The bread still tasted great, though, so I decided to try again, and this time I did score the bread. And because I was feeling particularly kitchen-goddess-like, what with baking with sourdough and all, I thought I'd go a step ahead and bake it up in a cast-iron skillet. Just like those superwomen of the past did.
The loaf was brilliant: it was easily the best sandwich bread I've ever made or had, with a light, perfectly airy texture-- nothing like those dense, oversweet whole-wheat sandwich breads sold at supermarkets. The cup of sourdough starter I used in the recipe was just enough to give the bread extraordinary flavor without making it too sour, which is how both Desi and I like it.
This is a very versatile bread to bake, shape-wise. You can divide it into two and bake it up in loaf pans for a more conventional look. Or you can form it into a round boule and bake it on a baking sheet and it would look cute as a button. Or do as I did and bake it up in a cast-iron pan.
The recipe follows. Enjoy, all!
All-Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread
(Makes one large boule or two regular-sized loaves)
Mix in a large bowl and set aside for five minutes until it begins to froth:
2 tsp active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
Then add to the bowl:
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup warm soymilk
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp maple syrup (use sugar if you'd rather)
1 tbsp salt
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (use regular whole-wheat flour if you can't find this)
½ cup vital wheat gluten flour
Mix together by hand or at low speed in a stand mixer until everything is well-mixed. Then, add a little at a time until the dough is no longer sticky:
1 to 2 cups of white whole-wheat flour (add more flour if the dough's still sticky).
Continue kneading for another 10 minutes. You should have a pliable dough that looks slightly sticky but doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl or your hand.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning once so the top of the dough is coated with oil.
Cover with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise in a warm place (like a cold oven with the pilot light on) for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until doubled in volume.
Now punch down the dough, and put it back in the bowl to rise for another hour.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet or a 10-inch cast iron skillet or two standard (6-cup) loaf pans. Sprinkle with some cornmeal or coarse semolina (rava or sooji).
Now punch the dough down again. If you are going to bake in a cast-iron pan or on a baking sheet, shape the dough into a round boule, tucking the seams underneath, and place it in the pan or the sheet. If you are using a baking sheet, you can also divide the dough into two and shape it into two smaller boules.
If you are baking in loaf pans, divide the dough into half. Shape each half into an oval, tucking the seams underneath. Place each oval into a loaf pan.
Sift some flour on top of the bread and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Set aside to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a sharp knife or blade, score the top of the loaf or loaves. If you are baking a boule, you can cut in a cross-hatch pattern, as I did. If you are baking a loaf, make two long, parallel, slightly diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf.
Bake the bread for 60 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and continue cooling on the rack. If you are using cast iron, be extremely careful and use mitts when removing the loaf because the iron gets very hot and doesn't cool down as fast as regular bakeware does.
Fall is the perfect time to bake some bread -- the kitchen is at just the right temperature to get the oven going, and it's not so cold that the yeast plays hard to rise. Besides, the smell of bread baking makes you feel all cozy and comfy and warm inside.
If you are someone who's never baked bread before, I hope this will be the weekend you will try your hand at it. Sure, it's easy to buy great artisan breads now at bakeries and even supermarkets, but trust me there is nothing quite so delicious as the bread you bake yourself. It's also a great way to show those you cook for how much you care. Don't be daunted by all those stories about how hard bread-making can be. You might not get perfect results the first time, but you will get better with practice.
I've posted tons of bread recipes over the last four years on Holy Cow!, including some with detailed guides on basic bread-making: feel free to browse through them. But the best piece of advice I can give you it is to follow recipes to the letter and not try to substitute a little bit here and there, especially if you are new at this. In bread-making -- or almost any kind of baking-- small changes can lead to big disasters. Once you get more experienced at making breads, you will be able to come up with your own recipes because you'll have a better understanding of how the ingredients work together.
Now go, bake some bread!